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From left, Jennifer Davis de Puglia, Kristen Calvin, Brandt Nakamura and Rose Passione perform in 'Blues in the Night' at the Randall Theatre. [Photo by Rodney Rampy]

Randall's 'Blues in the Night' steamy, smoky and spot on

With swinging hips and hands that slide skirts up in delight, three women sing lazy, lovely blues in Randall Theatre's "Blues in the Night," which opened Friday in Medford. 

The performers blast out two sets of the 1930s classics made famous by Bessie Smith, Edgar Sampson, Ida Cox, Billie Holiday and others. There's misery, moaning and lovin’ a good man gone bad. Sultry, sexy, curvaceous women lonely for a man. Ballsy women, busting back at abuse, or loose on a bottle of beer.

Kristen Calvin, Rose Passione and Jennifer Davis de Puglia play the women of “Blues in the Night,” down and out in a seedy hotel, each in a solitary room dreaming of the past. These performers long for youth, fame, wealth and, of course, a man, performing on a rundown set to fit the melancholy tunes. Calvin, Passione and Davis de Puglia are cast as The Girl, The Woman and The Lady, and these talented women can really scorch the stage with the heat of their performance.

The female cast revolves around The Man, played by Brandt Nakamura. He's jaunty, confident and cocky in “I’m Just a Lucky So and So.” His shiny patent leather shoes, cigarette, glass and fedora are perfectly in character, and they comically get in the way when the women push him about or snuggle up for a stolen kiss. Nakamura’s vocal training pays off big time throughout.

It’s not the whisky voices of Bessie Smith or Alberta Hunter that sound strong and suggestive in the Randall, but that of Davis de Puglia, who is pretty darn good with those old blues. Her powerful voice fills the theater, and her movements entice in “Take Me for a Buggy Ride.” Twirling an umbrella and talking of driving and engines, Davis de Puglia goes right into the audience to tantalize both men and women with her comely come on’s and swish of skirts. Her “Kitchen Man” is a hilarious rendition of physical innuendo involving every appliance and kitchen gadget you can imagine.

Passione as The Woman is similarly searing, a little drunk with gin and very drunk with desire in “Rough and Ready Man,” calling for attention from a man who works hard. Calvin is sexy, smoky and miserable in “Reckless Blues.”

That’s the blues, baby, full of innuendo and emotion — just right in the close, shadowy space of the Randall Theatre.

At the opening night show, Randall Executive Director Robin Downward addressed the audience, dedicating “Blues in the Night” to Michael Russell Wing, who died Feb. 20. Wing was known throughout the Rogue Valley for his chorale work and was music director at local churches, schools and theaters, including the Randall.

In recognition of her husband’s love of music, Kathy Wing, who directs Randall’s “Blues in the Night,” and her son, John Wing, who is sound engineer, worked through their grief to produce the show.

“Blues in the Night” runs through March 25. Its adult themes that may not be appropriate for younger audiences. For tickets and information, see www.RandallTheatre.com or call 541-632-3258.

— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer who lives in Ashland. Contact her at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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